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  • Writer's pictureJay Judas

Tier One Interview: Michael Konialian

This month, we are talking about the world of insuretechs as Jay sits down with Michael Konialian, Co-Founder & CEO of Modern Life. The pair discuss starting and running a tech-enabled brokerage, how Michael found himself in the life insurance industry, Taylor Swift and where to eat in New York City.


JAY: For about a year, I had been hearing tidbits about a new life insurance brokerage that had a lot of folks in the high-net-worth part of our market buzzing. Finally, when I attended Finseca’s Advanced Markets and Advocacy Summit this past March, I, and everyone else at the conference, could not help but notice Modern Life was the sponsor of the opening reception.

Immediately after the reception, you were gracious enough to grab a drink with me, Michael, and I learned a lot more about how Modern Life is making life easier for brokers and their clients buying life insurance. Let’s start by hearing more about Modern Life and your role as the Co-founder and CEO.


MICHAEL: Thank you for the kind words, Jay, and I am excited to share more about Modern Life. As co-founder and CEO, my role is to ensure that we are consistently delivering on our mission to serve high-net-worth producers who have been underserved by the existing technology and brokerage solutions on the market.

Michael Konialian of Modern Life

Modern Life is a tech-enabled brokerage that is dedicated to empowering sophisticated insurance advisors for their most impactful client financial protection needs. Today, the process of buying and selling life insurance and other financial protection products is arduous, opaque, and long – many deals take over 100 days to close!


Advisors face many headaches in obtaining, storing, and relating the many types of data and requirements required to get to offers and in understanding a vast array of products and medical nuances. We’ve built a contemporary technology platform specifically for the modern advisor to streamline how advisors serve their clients across the purchase journey and support them in managing their practice.


A lot of insuretechs are focused on the direct-to-consumer market for transactional term insurance. We’ve taken a different approach – rather than focusing on a product niche, we focus on empowering advisors with sophisticated tools for their full suite of client and product needs.


We set out to build a brokerage that combines easy-to-use technology with all the features that a sophisticated producer requires, which includes best-in-class advanced planning and field underwriting support. We believe that when technology is built with the advisor in mind, it not only augments what the user can do but also becomes enjoyable to use.


Everyone at Modern Life is excited about the buzz we've been receiving, and we're committed to continuing to innovate and serve our clientele with the best tools and support in the industry.


JAY: A curiosity I have held since starting in this business is how various leaders ended up in the life insurance space and in their current position. Some stories amaze me, and your path is no exception. After graduating from Princeton, you were with the U.S. Department of State, went to Harvard for your MBA, worked at McKinsey, and then found yourself in a property and casualty-focused startup venture before making the leap to life insurance.

Help me figure out the commonalities in your background that led to building and growing Modern Life.


MICHAEL: I have a deep-seated belief in the power of technology to revolutionize industries and improve lives and livelihoods.


After working with a number of large financial services companies at McKinsey, I moved to New York to get involved with early-stage startups. As a member of the leadership team at CoverWallet, I was able to both build and scale businesses as a general manager, but remain close to the technology. That included building an advisor-first technology platform in the property and casualty space, working with carriers to do API integrations, and building out new channels.


I was there for a period of hypergrowth that ended in our sale to Aon. I then got to incubate different businesses within Aon which was a great vantage point to see how the technology platform and operational model we developed could apply to many disparate businesses and product areas.


The leap to life insurance was a natural progression. It was inspired by my own experience of buying life insurance for my family. In it, I saw a sector that was ripe for disruption, with outdated processes and a lack of customer-centric solutions. It was a lengthy, cumbersome process that I believed could be significantly improved with the right technology and design.


With Modern Life, we're leveraging our tech-forward approach, advanced data analytics, and deep industry knowledge to transform the life insurance space. We're committed to making the process of buying life insurance as simple and efficient as possible, while still providing our advisors and clients with top-notch service and options.

Panelists speaking at an insuretech conference

JAY: We are now one year from the launch of Modern Life. The feedback I hear from the market is that your team is both high-tech and high-touch. Essentially, Modern Life has been able to vastly improve the advisor’s experience. Your popularity has spurred a period of rapid growth and I wonder how you plan to continue to grow while maintaining the attributes of your success. As I think about it, if I am a producer in the high-net-worth space considering working with Modern Life, this would probably be my number one area of interest.


MICHAEL: I am glad to hear this feedback. By being builders of technology versus buyers of technology, we’re able to have a really tight feedback loop between the advisors we serve and our engineering team which results in a superior experience for advisors.

Technology alone isn't enough for a product that’s as complex and personal as life insurance. That's why we place equal importance on expert support - our brokerage team understands the unique needs and challenges of serving high-net-worth individuals and we're dedicated to providing the best possible service and solutions for the advisors that serve them.


We believe that this combination is key to our success and will enable us to maintain our high standards as we continue to grow. That’s reflected in the technology that we’ve developed over the past few months: from a completely integrated brokerage platform experience, to a proprietary Generative AI for life insurance that can pass the life insurance licensing exam designed to help answer business challenges for our advisors.

Most importantly, we're constantly looking for ways to improve and innovate, based on feedback from our advisors and clients.


JAY: I want to stay on the subject of the advisor or broker’s experience. When we first spoke five months ago, I will admit to thinking to myself, “Oh, boy, here is another start-up that claims technological advantages in the life insurance space when, in reality, they are just going to sell term policies through a slightly re-tooled online interface.” I was completely wrong. Can you give me a couple of examples of how your tech has allowed Modern Life to work with brokers on complex cases?


MICHAEL: I'm glad you brought that up. At Modern Life, we're not just re-tooling the online interface for selling term policies. Instead, we're innovating to provide sophisticated tools that empower advisors to handle complex cases with ease.


We’ve developed a fully integrated brokerage platform, which means that all of advisors’ case data is available through their Modern Life dashboard. Housing all of this information in one place not only gives advisors a 360° view of their cases — from quotes to in force — but also helps them keep an eye on case progress.


We find that this is especially important for large, complex cases where there may be 40 or more individual requirements: an advisor using Modern Life can quickly pull up their dashboard to review outstanding requirements, which includes updates and context from their case manager.


The brokerage platform is only one piece of the puzzle: we’ve unified the advice journey within our product. This means that advisors can intake data from their client, get quotes, review product details and carrier performance, and submit an application without leaving their Modern Life account.


It’s worth noting that we’ve developed the entire experience with an eye to making the life insurance process faster and easier. This means that advisors get the data they need to evaluate options and take action to optimize and progress deals.


As an example: one of our users, Mike Laatsch, shared recently that our brokerage has reduced the time it takes to turn around LTC quotes for his firm by nearly 75%. Moreover, those quotes are delivered in a thoughtfully designed format that he can then present directly to the client. We’re looking for ways to not only save time for the advisor and their team, but also improve the client experience.


JAY: Those are great examples, Michael, but I do not want our readers to walk away thinking your tech is your only differentiator. Modern Life also has a full suite of underwriting, case design, advanced markets and policy service offerings. I suspect the combination of these sets you far apart from competitors. Talk about these offerings and how brokers are taking advantage of them to help with placing cases.


MICHAEL: As I said before, we realized early on that we needed to align our technological expertise with a top-tier client-facing team.

Founder of an insuretech company

Let's start with underwriting. Our brokerage team is truly exceptional when it comes to securing competitive coverage for impaired risk cases. We've been able to secure favorable coverage for clients who were previously deemed uninsurable by other brokerages, thanks to our nuanced interpretation of medical records and a deep understanding of carrier underwriting guidelines. We have a medical director and an underwriter on staff to provide expert opinions on tricky cases.


As for case design, our advanced planning efforts cover a wide range of scenarios, from private financing to foreign nationals, to key person and other business-related cases. We've already built a reputation for being able to navigate complex and challenging cases. This depth of knowledge allows us to provide producers with the support and tools they need to serve their clients effectively.


Lastly, our entire service model is designed to ensure that brokers and their clients have a smooth experience from start to finish. Our technology comes into play here, as it allows us to keep our internal teams and our advisors on the same page regarding case requirements and statuses. It also enables our brokerage managers to see what advisors are working on and where they might be encountering challenges, so they can provide proactive support.


JAY: One subject we have not touched upon is understanding who Modern Life’s client is. What is your distribution model and what are the characteristics of a broker who would be a good fit for you?


MICHAEL: We've found that we work best with producers who cater to high-net-worth clients, business owners, and family offices. These client categories often present complex scenarios that require a level of service and expertise that our technology and team can provide.


Our client roster skews towards established producers and sophisticated financial planners. We’ve gotten the feedback that our clients appreciate the efficiency and speed that our technology brings to their practice, allowing them to invest more time in their client relationships.


We’d love to chat with any producers who feel underserved by their current brokerage, curious about how technology can enhance their practice, or stuck with a challenging case where they're struggling to get the right coverage at the right rating for their clients.

Our team is here to provide a solution that can help them move faster and serve their clients more effectively.


JAY: Let’s switch gears away from business. When you aren’t growing Modern Life, what are you doing in your time outside of the company?


MICHAEL: When I'm not working on growing Modern Life, I'm usually spending quality time with my family or exploring the region. We have young children, so our weekends are typically filled with family activities and outings.


I'm also a big fan of live music. One of the perks of living in New York is the variety of bands that come through the City. My wife and I were fortunate enough to catch Taylor Swift when she came to town, and it was definitely the best production I’ve seen in a show.

I also enjoy cycling - though New York is terrible for it - and staying active. We even have periodic group workouts at Modern Life which I’m normally on the bottom half of!


JAY: What a great interview! Thank you for agreeing to chat, Michael. We have come to the increasingly popular restaurant question. Due to our industry’s affinity for steakhouses, please tell our readers about a couple of your favorite, non-steakhouse spots as well as what non-steak dishes should be ordered when visiting.


MICHAEL: Thank you for having me — it's always a pleasure to share insights with industry peers. While I do enjoy a good steakhouse, one of the things that I love about New York is the variety of restaurants nearby. One of my favorite restaurants near our offices is Balthazar, which is a fairly iconic French bistro in NYC. It’s a great choice for business or client dinners — steak lovers will still have a few great choices on the menu, but they have a broad set of classic French fare in a setting that really transports you. For something a bit different, Lure Fishbar is a must-visit. Like Balthazar, they also have a great patio in the heart of SoHo and a great set of raw and cooked seafood options.

Interior of Balthazar restaurant in New York City.
Photo courtesy balthazarny.com

 

Since its inception, Life Insurance Strategies Group has solely focused on the individual high net worth life insurance market. We do not sell products. This allows us to offer unbiased, pragmatic advice. Visit us at www.lifeinsurancestrategiesgroup.com.

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